Dunbabin, Katherine M. D.: The Roman Banquet : Images of Conviviality. paperback, 312 pages, 253 x 215 mm, ISBN: 9780521127301, £24.99
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010)
Compte rendu par Ilona Skupinska-Lovset, University of Lodz, Poland

Nombre de mots : 1334 mots
Publié en ligne le 2012-05-24
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=1565
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          The book has 291 pages. The text with black and white illustrations and drawings stretches out to page 208, notes from page 209 to page 249, a glossary is found on pages 251-257, abbreviations are listed on pages 259-260, bibliography on pages 261–280, index of ancient source on pages 281-284, index of sites and monuments  on pages 285-288, a general index on pages 289–291. A list of illustrations is presented on pages  IX – XIII, but more detailed information about each illustration is given under each of them; the preface stretches from page XV to page XVII.


          As apparent from above the book is supplied with a rich scientific apparatus facilitating lecturing and giving instructions  for further readings as well as studying. The text is conveniently divided in thematic sections parted in six chapters. It sums up the knowledge on the subject of banqueting, a popular  theme during the last decades; the lecture ends in the Christian catacombs. It is more than expected as the title of the book promises readings about the banqueting in the Roman period, however the book offers an extended period of time as it starts with the famous relief from Niniveh showing a garden party in the palace of Assurbanipal , dated to 646-636 BC. This was a special victory party and the heads of slaughtered enemies decorated the trees.  Chapter one further  differentiates   “reclining banquet”  versus “seated banquet” and introductorily follows it in the Greco-Roman world from the first quarter of the sixth century BC,  illustrated  by a banquet scene on the Corinthian crater in the Louvre, no. E 634.


          Various forms of gatherings – privately and officially, for few or for many, for common cause or private enjoyment, for the living and for the dead, indoors or outdoors are enumerated.  A distinction between domestic and funerary context is explained as well as the influence of the Hellenistic tradition in art of the first century  BC,  surviving  into the first century AD. The cultural differences between Greece and  Rome are stressed  in the setting of the banqueting  room, the position of woman, the role of food in banqueting (p. 19). The author strongly differentiates  between commensuality (dinner) and comissiatio (drinking party) in Roman society. As for the last, she points out that the Romans mixed wine differently from the Greeks  and that they enjoyed colda (warm wine).


          Facts pertaining to daily life such as the disappearance of the crater from the repertoire of Hellenistic ceramics has been connected with cultural changes in banqueting that was tied to individual serving and individual mixing of wine and water. As for the banqueters, there is no evidence that women participated in parties together with men – but the author is inclined to think that they did (p. 25). The author also points to the lack of food on visualizations of Etruscan reclining parties with the participation of women and call them  drinking parties (p. 26). Provincial grave monuments, mostly from Provincia Germania (called Germany)  with reclining persons are also discussed in brief (p. 34-35).


          Chapter two discusses the setting of Greek and Roman dining space (p. 71). The dining room may be identified in the Greek world from the sixth century BC on, in the “andron”- as a rule it is an almost square room with an off-centre door and a slightly raised stripe of floor for the kline to stand on. The early Roman banquet-room has in contrast the shape of a triclinium placed along the short side of an elongated room. A single mensa stood between the lecti triclinares, which is evidenced in Pompeii.


          Private dinners in Rome were kept for no more than 9 guests. This is an ideal picture of which of course deviations are recorded. Some dining rooms within the Roman Empire were richly decorated by paintings and mosaics – in search for analogies to these pictures the author returns to the Hellenistic dining room, included in the palatial architecture of the East.


          A short sub-chapter is consecrated to outdoor dining treated in the most general way with examples from the entire Mediterranean area from  sixth century BC Greece to the Herodian palace in Jericho, in order to offer space for the description of the visual art of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The banquet was the subject in the repertory of the IIIrd and IVth styles. The original location of many party-paintings is unknown, sometimes a triclinium-banquet  was painted but often the subject was taken from the Hellenistic world and do not show actual dining customs. To the most informative the author counts a recently excavated painting from the  triclinium of a backery named “The House of the Chaste Lovers”. The painting was executed in IIIrd style (dated 35 – 45 A.D.) and restored in the IVth. The scene shows a drinking party; on one of the couches three persons are shown, which is interpreted as a Roman custom (p. 55). The picture from Herculaneum no. 9024 in the collection of the Naples Museo Nationale is considered as a luxuriant way of banqueting (pl. III). The author considers that the exclusive concentration upon drinking in the Pompeian paintings is inherited from the Greek tradition of a symposion contrary to the Roman tradition with the importance of the food as documented in various literary sources and paintings of food. The visualization of the process of eating is, however, not found in Roman art, and is not considered as a proper motif by the author (p. 65). The women in erotic poses, lightly dressed, or only male participants are also considered a non-Roman motif (p. 67). The observed influence from the Greek speaking East – in the case of  mosaics from Antioch and similar- is described as an escapist enjoyment for the Roman upper classes.


          Chapter 3 deals with public dining such as religious ceremonies arranged by collegia, triumph and imperial anniversaries, funerals of official persons.  In Rome these were important events and the author stresses the scale of arrangements such as those organized by Crassus in 70 BC and by Caesar in 45 BC. The atmosphere of such seated meetings is stiff and the majority of the persons are shown in formalized garment.  Contrariwise, the old fashioned simplicity of the Roman lower class establishments such as the taberna or popina is discussed.


          Chapter four is entitled “Drinking in the Tomb”. The visualization shows a reclined dead holding in his hand a drinking cup.  In larger scenes a composition showing a funerary banquet is supplemented with food placed on a table near  the banqueting deceased, shown alone or with family and friends. The chapter presents funerary reliefs, placed on a sarcophagus, a  kline, a funerary urn, as well as tomb paintings and mosaics, on which may be seen only the deceased, or the deceased with a number of participants. The material is varied, often the picture is accompanied by an inscription. The living also had the opportunity to accompany  the dear departed in banqueting in person; this could take place in specially designed  triclinia and biclinia, which have been recorded at some tombs (figs. 72, 73, 74).


          Chapter five extends the consideration of the subject into Late Antiquity (pp. 141-174). It is a substantial chapter treating the Sevso treasure, mosaics from Piazza Armerina, Syrian and African mosaics, late sarcophagi, wall paintings and chosen Late antique villas. The dining room of the “stibadium” type is presented as time typical. Chapter six, under the title “The Last Banqueters” discusses the catacomb paintings - and introduces the so-called “sigma dining”. In this period the occurrence of plates with food and specifically loafs of bread  is common. In conclusion the author points to the multitude of questions the discussed subject touches, from reconstruction of setting during the banquets, through the food and drinks, clothing of participants, to the question of patronage. The book offers interesting reading for everybody.